Holy Mackerel!

We came, we saw seafood, we ate it, we left

You'd need a boat to get farther out to sea than the three Ruby's Diners perched at the end of Orange County piers in Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Balboa. We visited the restaurant in Seal Beach, but if you come out here looking for seafood, you're pretty much sunk. Even drenched in the salt air and surrounded by fishermen cleaning their catch, Ruby's remains dedicated to its 1950s-style, burger-and-malt-shop motif. However, if you're determined to make your meal match the ambiance, we'd suggest the fish tacos. There's also a seafood combo to consider—fried halibut strips and fried shrimp—but again, we'd suggest the fish tacos. They're a pair of soft, warm flour tortillas wrapped around fried and seasoned strips of Alaskan halibut, garnished with a zesty cabbage slaw and accompanied by crisp French fries. Ruby's will always be a burger joint, but these fish tacos are unexpectedly worth a walk to the end of the earth. Ruby's Diner, end of Seal Beach Municipal Pier, (562) 431-7829. Fish tacos: $7.99. (DW)

Growing up in Hong Kong, I got used to eating fish with the eyes still staring at me. My dad always encouraged me to eat the fish head, although I hated chewing the hard, solid eyeballs. So I can commiserate with my dinner date when, while perusing the menu at the tiny Restaurant Thainakorn near a tire-repair facility, he pointedly skipped over any fish dishes with the head intact. Instead, we chose a dish that the waiter confirmed contained no fish head or eyes. The fried (headless) halibut fillet was quite meaty and covered with a curry sauce that was more sweet than spicy, although there was the occasional sliver of hot chile pepper. The dish was an excellent choice, although I still crave fish heads. Restaurant Thainakorn, 25482 Marguerite Pkwy., Ste. 102, Mission Viejo, (949) 707-0370. Fried halibut fish with red curry: $9.95. (DCT)

Café Hidalgo's très cool location—in the 1920s-era California Hotel, which many people who work in its shops and restaurants swear is haunted—is matched by its awesome menu. Billed as modern Southwest, it's the fish that best exemplifies Hidalgo's unique-to-North County flair and flavors. The hardest decision is what fish among the many varieties is your best bet. We recommend the halibut fronterra: fresh-grilled halibut served with a roasted-poblano cream sauce. It's so good it has been known to make grown men weep. Café Hidalgo, 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 447-3202. Halibut fronterra: $16.95. (SCL)

Betcha don't see kung pao sea cucumber on too many menus around the U.S. of A. Yes, it looks like a cucumber, and yes, it tastes like a slug, but the version at Seafood Cove is hot and spicy, squishy and crunchy. They also serve it 10 other ways in case this version doesn't appeal to you. Of course, to start off such an exotic feast, you must try the flavored jellyfish. The semisweet sauce gives the fat, gelatinous tentacles an almost noodle-like quality. It's served cold on a bed of cabbage and cilantro and has a rather pleasing, crunchy texture to it. Them jellyfish slurp up almost like spaghetti! Seafood Cove, 8547 Westminster Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 895-7964. Kung pao sea cucumber: $5.25; jellyfish: $6.95. (EK)

French 75 Bistro and Champagne Bar is the most beautiful bar in OC—with prices to match. But where else can you sit surrounded by Parisian Art Deco splendor under a buttery mural that incorporates spider monkeys and babies frolicking amongst jeroboams of Krug? The resonant thunk of champagne corks popping was the only competition for the live jazz piano as I savored the basil-fed escargot and langoustines with Black Forest ham swimming in herb-garlic butter. This mollusk/crustacean combo was just what I needed with the Nicolas Feuillatte, Premier Cru Brut. Was it gauche of me to dredge the rustic, artisan bread into the remnants of snail butter in the cute escargot dish, considering it came with its own generous portion of what tasted like anchovy-herb butter? Blame it on the bubbly. French 75 Bistro and Champagne Bar, 1464 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8444. Basil-fed escargot and langoustines: $24. (KvH)

Located at the outskirts of Arab Anaheim, La Langosta is a family-themed Mexican seafood restaurant. Order its namesake langosta ranchera—lobster prepared with pepper, onions, cilantro, tomatoes and salsa that is hot both in a literal and culinary sense. It's a combination that gives the lobster a slightly spicy flavor without hiding the tenderness and sweetness that make lobster so damn expensive. As you eat it, try not to be distracted by the fact that a level of hell must be specifically reserved for those of us who eat animals in their exoskeleton. La Langosta, 408 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 772-6666. Lobster: $19.50; half lobster: $10.50. (GA)

The row of seafood houses vying for business on Westminster Boulevard all offer lobster for $8.99 per pound. But what makes Capital Seafood different is the house special butter sauce in which the lobster is cooked. The sauce mixes butter with green and white onions, green chiles, red bell pepper, and other vegetables. It seals the lobster's juices inside a crispy coating created by the sizzling sauce. It may not be good for you, but it really transforms a standard lobster into something amazingly delicious. Capital Seafood, 8851 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 892-4182. Fresh whole lobster in house special butter sauce: $8.99 per pound. (EK)

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